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Morris: Council, Mayor Wiehl have mishandled city budget for too long

Republican mayoral candidate Randy Morris said he believes that more effective leadership could alleviate Athens’ suffering as the city prepares itself for almost $1 million in budget cuts.

In order to deal with the looming $974,320 budget reduction, the city is planning to cut department funds, City Auditor Kathy Hecht said.

Morris said this is not an effective way to deal with the problem.

“The mindset of the City Council and the mayor right now is that there’s nothing we can do. It’s that, if the university cuts positions, then we’re doomed, and if the state cuts funds as well, then we’re more doomed,” he said. “But I think that there are probably some ways we can generate revenue.”

Morris said communication between the mayor and City Council is lacking and that Wiehl has not been taking enough control in the decision-making process.

“Several of the people on City Council have taken it upon themselves to play that leadership role because the mayor isn’t,” Morris said. “The mayor is very involved in some projects he really likes, but he’s not leading the budget discussion. He’s not leading the discussion of priorities for the city or the core responsibilities of the city government.”

One way to cope with the budget shortfall, Morris said, is by adopting a budget where every expenditure must be approved before any action is taken.

“It seems to me that, under the Wiehl administration, he basically handed it over to City Council and said, ‘You make the budget,’  ” Morris said.

He added that improving small businesses and utilizing corporate sponsorships are crucial to lessening the effect of the budget cuts. Money generated from corporate sponsors could be used to help cover the operating costs of establishments such as ARTS/West, he said.

“(ARTS/West) its such a popular program, and I don’t think we’re tapping into corporate sponsorships that might be available,” Morris said.

Promoting Athens businesses and helping them become more profitable is another way to generate revenue, Morris said.

“We need to focus on being cheerleaders and streamlining the process so that, if (business owners) want to do something to improve their business, they can do that without the city being an impediment to them,” Morris said.

Hecht said Athens is too small to reap much benefit from those strategies.

“Businesses in town do a lot for the community, but they don’t have the resources to supplement the city,” Hecht said. “Cities that have industry have a larger tax base, but our largest employer is Ohio University, and they don’t pay business taxes as opposed to a corporation. We just don’t have that base here in Athens.”

City Engineer and Director of Public Works Andy Stone said in an email that street maintenance will suffer if funds are cut.

“It will result in a greater inconvenience to Athens motorists, with deferred maintenance and more-critical maintenance activities happening during normal hours,” he said.

Still, Hecht stressed the importance of trimming down spending as a major way to help pacify the reductions.

“We’ve had fewer people taking city vehicles home; we’ve reduced staffing positions without laying people off,” Hecht said. “I don’t have any ideas for new ways for them to tighten the belt, although we will have to.”

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